We wish you all a Merry Christmas and Covid-free New Year.
2021 was another challenging year for many organisations and the Heritage Centre has been no exception. We were forced to close for a significant part of the year, which has not only been disappointing for visitors, our volunteers and our staff, but it also had a significant effect on the income we generate to keep the site running. The Covid situation has been difficult to manage and the help on the door from our amazing team of Meet & Greet volunteers was crucial and they really did make the difference between us being able to open the site or to be closed. We’ve taken every measure we can to reduce running costs as much as possible, so we can ride out the pandemic and welcome back visitors. And, yet again, we thank you for your kind messages of support.
As previously, despite a very difficult year, our volunteers have been busy developing and enhancing the site and once again there is much good news to report!
Many of you will be wondering why trains have not run on the branch line. In April the point that leads into the sand drag at Swithland was damaged. The point motor needed to be repaired plus the point blades, tie bars, etc. Due to lock-down, the Great Central Railway P-way (Permanent Way) team had a backlog of work and the repairs were consequently delayed. We are confident that, barring another mishap, visitors will see trains on the branch in the New Year.
We are now the proud owners of a working steam locomotive ‘Colin McAndrew’ which arrived at the Heritage Centre in late October 2020. We were impatient to show off ‘Colin’ to our visitors after long and repeated closures and it has been in steam regularly throughout 2021. We anticipate that Colin will be running more shunting demonstrations in 2022. With coal, maintenance, insurance and 10 year overhaul costs all taken into account, it costs approximately £300 a day to steam Colin, so if you are visiting whilst Colin is in action please leave a donation to help us cover these costs, so we can continue to avoid having to charge an entrance fee on steaming days.
Over the last couple of months the LMS van internal space has been converted into a museum area! Timber steps have been built leading up to the wagon to provide visitor access and mains electrics have been run to the wagon with a lighting track fitted that will turn on automatically as visitors walk past the wagon.
Exhibits have been donated and shelves, tables and other stands constructed to display the items at their best. Rather than use display boards we will be adding a “juke box” narrator which will allow visitors to select audio descriptions of the exhibits.
Robert Stephenson’s historic 1834 lift bridge
You may be aware that we now have a major new restoration project of national importance. Components of Robert Stephenson’s historic 1834 Leicester lift bridge arrived as an incomplete kit of parts. Over the next two years, you will be able to see it being restored and rebuilt.
In the meantime we are still looking for funding for what will be an expensive project and we are pleased to say that substantial grants have been made by both the Edith Murphy Foundation and the Helen Jean Cope Charity. Unfortunately, a third funding application was not successful so we are still some way short of the figure we will eventually need. Another funding application will be considered in the Spring and, depending on that outcome, we may need another public appeal to get us over the line.
The immediate plan is to buy all the timber needed and to put in the concrete foundations with the new corner mounting brackets. When the timbers arrive we will build the bridge deck and lay track across it. We’ll also put the four large corner post timbers in place and brace. Doing this gives us a substantially built bridge. This should be very attractive to funders as they can see that progress is being made and also completes the new build elements of the project, which are less attractive to heritage grant providers who like to fund preservation and restoration of the original elements rather than the new. Many people have struggled to understand how the bridge will fit into our location, so taking the build to deck stage also helps them to see and understand how it will work.
The remaining work after this stage is to refurbish the cast original components, replace missing or beyond repair components, reassembly, a new winding handle assembly and housing hut and, finally, public interpretation. This remaining work will not be inexpensive so much funding is still required for that.
As if having one major project on the go isn’t enough, we hope to eventually operate passenger rides around the narrow gauge circuit in the bottom of the quarry. To enable this we need to add an extension to the east side of the workshop and remove part of the current side wall of the building. This will allow us to run Narrow Gauge (NG) track into the workshop allowing the NG diesel locos and possibly future NG steam, to be housed securely and maintained.
We have a quotation of £14k to supply and erect the extension. One supporter has very kindly agreed to donate up to £7,000 for the workshop extension in the form of match funding. For example every £10 donated will double to £20, every £100 becomes £200 and so on.
We’ve already been able to attract over £2k in donations which has doubled to nearly £5k through the match funding offer, so we are well on our way with this. A public appeal to visitors with the aim of raising the remaining funds can be found on the Donate page of the website, and you can also make donations via our GoFundMe page at https://gofund.me/6dd414a5. We are hopeful of being able to attract funding from supporters and visitors for the workshop extension and pursue different channels of funding for the lift bridge so we don’t have the two conflicting with each other.
We don’t want to pause the workshop extension because we have secured two thirds of the money needed already and, with runaway construction costs at the moment, any delay might make the project unaffordable.
Our volunteer architects have once again very kindly agreed to handle the planning application for the extension, which we hope to have submitted by Christmas.
Peace and Botanic Garden
We’ve received many favourable comments about the memorial Peace Garden, and the commemorative plaques in memory of loved ones are proving to be very popular. At present plaques cost £180 with the option to spread a small amount of ashes if you wish. Plaque orders are already being taken and three sleepers are already full. For further information and contact details please visit our Peace Garden page.
And finally can we remind visitors that we close at 4:30 pm on Thursday 23rd December for our Christmas break reopening at 10:00 am on Sunday 2nd January 2022!
Merry Christmas and a Happy and Safe New Year to you all.